House of the Tiger King
When the Spanish Conquistadors swept through Peru in the sixteenth century, they were searching for great golden treasure. In 1572, they stormed the Inca stronghold of Vilcabamba, only to find the city deserted, burned, and already stripped of its wealth. A legend says that the Incas had retreated deep into the jungle, where they built another magnificent city in an inaccessible quarter of the cloud-forest. And for more than four centuries explorers and adventurers, archaeologists and warrior-priests, have searched for the gold and riches of the Incas, and this lost city of Paititi, known by the local Machiguenga tribe as ‘The House of the Tiger King’.
After the lost city obsession had gnawed away at Tahir Shah for almost a decade, he could stand it no more. He put together an expedition and set out into Peru’s Madre de Dios jungle, the densest cloud forest on Earth. He teams up with a Pancho, a Machiguenga warrior who asserts that in his youth he came upon a massive series of stone ruins deep in the jungle. Pancho’s ambition was to leave the jungle and visit a ‘live’ bustling city so the two men make a pact: if Pancho takes Shah to Paititi, then he will take Pancho to the Peruvian capital.
House of the Tiger King is the tale of Shah’s remarkable adventure to find the greatest lost city of the Americas, and the treasure of the Incas. Along the way he considers others who have spent decades in pursuit of lost cities, and asks why anyone would find it necessary to mount such a quest at all.
‘Tahir Shah is an ideal companion with whom to go looking for buried treasure – adventurous, romantic and irrepressible’
– Daily Mail
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HOUSE OF THE TIGER KING was a journey into and an obsession of one of the bleakest, most magical and dangerous jungles on Earth. There were dark times on that trip, extreme darkness, but beyond that there was a sense that my crew and I were challenged like never before.
The project was characteristic for me in that it wasn’t about giving more than a passing thought to the book I might write at the end of it. Indeed, like so many other quests on which I have embarked, I never really thought about writing it up. When you are shaking each night from dengue fever, the skin on your feet rotted away, and worms boring out from the soft skin of the inner thighs, the idea of a comfortable writing room is a luxury.
My quest for the lost city of Paititi was about keeping myself going, and keeping my men with me. It was a tortuous journey, and one that almost broke us all. I learned that there are far more important things in life than attaining a meaningless prize. I learned humility, that we are all human, and that there is very letter difference between a Machiguenga warrior and someone from our world. More that that, I discovered ¬ as Pancho says – there is no reason to strive for a lost city… a place without people, a sloughed huddle of broken homes… the real meaning of a city is in the life people bring to it.
I long since left the jungle, but a day doesn’t go buy on which i think of Hector, Pancho and the others. I think of them, hope for them, and try to imagine what they are doing at this very moment.